Belfast Giants on course in treble mission
Cardiff Devils 3 Belfast Giants 3 (Giants win 10-4 on aggregate): The Belfast Giants' treble dream is well and truly on.
Paul Adey's team strolled into the Challenge Cup final despite being held 3-3 by the Cardiff Devils in Wales last night, winning their semi-final by a resounding 10-4 on aggregate to reach their third decider in four seasons.
With a 19-point lead at the top of the Elite League table and the Play-offs still to come, the Giants are very much on course to make the 2013-14 season the most successful in the club's history.
Cardiff were unable to derail the Giants' juggernaut, although they did manage to slow them down ever so slightly by tying the game, but it was nowhere near enough for them to overturn the six-goal deficit from last week's first leg at the Odyssey.
Knowing that an early goal would all but kill off the contest, the Giants came out strong, but Cardiff weathered that storm and they threatened to make things interesting by taking the lead on the night.
Mark Smith sent the puck forward to Mac Faulkner and he fired home his 30th goal of the season at 3:54.
The play then began to break up with both teams being hit by penalties and Cardiff threatening to score before the net was knocked off its moorings.
Just when the Devils looked like they might breathe some life into the tie the Giants scored to restore the six-goal advantage.
Chris Higgins had just been denied by a fine save from Cardiff goaltender Kamil Kosowski when Dustin Whitecotton and Robby Sandrock carved out an opportunity on a powerplay from which Jeffrey Szwez scored at 16:53.
Both Szwez and Whitecotton went close to scoring again for the Giants as chances began to come at both ends of the ice.
The second period belonged to Cardiff as they did all they could to put some pressure on the Giants.
Matthew Myers forced a fine save from Stephen Murphy immediately after the restart, but he only had to wait 37 seconds of the period to score from Faulkner's assist.
Faulkner, Adam Harding and Andy Lord then tested Murphy before Myers scored again at 27:39 to give his team significant hope – Lord and Markus Rama with the assists.
Adey immediately called a time out in an effort to quell the momentum that Cardiff now had in their favour, with the noise level also growing louder.
The Giants did force Kosowski into an impressive save, but it was still Stephen Murphy doing most of the work at the other end as Jake Morisette and Rama both came very close to adding to the Devils advantage, while Martins Gipsters also struck a post.
After surviving that onslaught the Giants were a much better side in the third period and after killing a hooking penalty awarded against Adam Keefe they were back on the attack.
Higgins was denied on a breakaway, but seconds later Szwez smashed in his second goal of the night at 49:42 after excellent work from Calvin Elfring and Colin Shields, with Cardiff's claims for an icing offence falling on deaf ears.
That goal knocked all the fight and resistance out of the Devils as they knew that any feint hopes of a spirited comeback had gone.
Myers then took a penalty and that led to the Giants levelling the score at 3-3 on the night with a powerplay goal at 53.31.
Elfring and Sandrock worked the puck between them and Kevin Saurette supplied the finish and now the Giants await the winners of the other semi-final showdown between the Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers, with those games scheduled to be played on February 12 and 18.